EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch the video above for step-by-step instructions on how to properly fill out and return your mail-in ballot in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania voters can now cast their ballots through the mail, but there are some potential pitfalls they need to avoid to ensure their vote gets counted.
From missing signatures to casting the dreaded “naked ballot,” there are some errors that will lead to votes being thrown out.
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Below is a checklist of what you need to do in order to make sure your mail-in ballot is certified and counted. Scroll down to find out how to request a mail ballot in person, through the mail or online.
Remember: your county elections office must receive your mail ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day or it will not be counted. Postmarks do not count.
How do I register to vote in Pennsylvania?
Mail-In Voting: What to Know
The last day to register to vote for the 2022 primary election was May 2, but that doesn’t mean you can’t register to vote for future elections, including November’s general election.
If you want to vote by mail, the earlier you get the process going the better. You can register to vote online at the Pennsylvania Department of State website.
You can also register to vote through the mail by filling out a voter registration application and sending it to your county voter registration office. The office must have your application by close of business on the voter registration deadline.
How do I apply for a mail-in ballot online?
You can request one through the Pennsylvania Department of State's website.
How do I apply for a mail-in ballot in person?
The quickest way to get a mail-in ballot today is in person at your county election office. Some PennDOT locations and other government agencies also allow you to register in person.
You will need your PennDOT ID number or the last 4 digits of your Social Security number, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The quickest way to return your mail-in ballot once it’s filled out, though, is at your county election office.
For instance, if a Philadelphia voter goes to the city's Elections Office at City Hall and requests a mail-in ballot, the voter will receive it immediately and then have the option of filling it out and returning it at the same time, City Commissioner Seth Bluestein said.
A voter could also choose to take the ballot home if they don't want to fill it out right away. In that case, after filling it out at home, Bluestein said, they can then:
- Bring it back to the Elections Office to submit it
- Put it in one of the city's official drop boxes
- Mail it back using the U.S. Postal Service
How do I fill out my mail-in ballot?
- Check off the box for receiving email alerts
When applying for the mail-in ballot, there is an option for voters to have email updates sent. These alerts are valuable for knowing the status of your ballot: when it is en route to you, when your county election office has received it from you, when your vote has been counted. It is definitely worth providing an email for these alerts.
- Carefully open the ballot package when you receive it in the mail
A good rule of thumb for voters who have requested a mail-in ballot is to take better care when opening your mail. One of the most common problems that voters faced in the 2020 primary was ripping their ballots or the envelopes that come with the ballots in half, according to one election official. He said it appears that many voters initially believe the ballot or some of the contents with the ballot were junk mail. So take care when sorting your mail, and when opening the ballot package, make sure not to throw out any of the contents. There is more to this than you think!
- Make sure there is a secrecy envelope included
One of the pieces of content included in the ballot package you'll receive is a secrecy envelope. The mail-in ballot must be inside this envelope when county election boards receive it back from a voter.
PLEASE NOTE: A mail-in ballot NOT in a secrecy envelope, also known as a "naked ballot," will NOT BE COUNTED!
- Fill out the ballot immediately (in blue or black ink), put it in the secrecy envelope, then put it in the outer return envelope
Don't wait to fill out the ballot after you get it. Take care of business. Don't put it off. But there is one more crucial step before putting it in the mail or a county election drop box. And that is...
- Don't forget to sign the outer envelope before sending it back!
A signature is required on the back of the outer envelope that contains the secrecy envelope and ballot. Make sure to sign the back of that envelope before putting it in the mail or a county drop box. A mail-in ballot that arrives without that signature will be thrown out.
Most counties across the state have drop boxes for voters who want to return mail-in ballots without using the U.S. Postal Service.